Trump imposes sanctions on Turkey over Russian defense purchases


The Trump administration on Monday imposed mandatory sanctions on Turkey over its acquisition last year of the Russian S-400 missile defense system, following the passage in Congress last week of legislation requiring such sanctions to be imposed shortly.

The sanctions target Turkey’s Presidency of Defense Industries (SSB); SSB’s president, Ismail Demir; and other SSB officers. The sanctions include a ban on all U.S. export licenses and authorizations and visa restrictions and asset freezes for blacklisted individuals and the agency.

The move is likely to sour relations between Ankara and Washington in the final weeks of the Trump administration and ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration on Jan. 20.

Yet it was long-anticipated since Turkey’s acquisition of the Russian weapons system in July 2019, and that was meant to trigger sanctions under federal law, Section 231 of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA).

Critics accused President Trump of withholding sanctions for more than a year because of his close relationship with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

But the administration said Monday’s decision came after months of diplomacy between the NATO allies that ultimately failed to convince Ankara to abandon the Russian system.

“The United States made clear to Turkey at the highest levels and on numerous occasions that its purchase of the S-400 system would endanger the security of U.S. military technology and personnel and provide substantial funds to Russia’s defense sector, as well as Russian access to the Turkish armed forces and defense industry,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

“Turkey nevertheless decided to move ahead with the procurement and testing of the S-400, despite the availability of alternative, NATO-interoperable systems to meet its defense requirements. This decision resulted in Turkey’s suspension and pending removal from the global F-35 Joint Strike Fighter partnership.”

Turkey in a lengthy response condemned and rejected the U.S. sanctions, calling them unfair. Ankara further said that “President Trump himself has admitted on many instances that Turkey’s acquisition [of the Russian defense system] was justified.”

Turkey added that it will “take the necessary steps against this decision… in a manner and timing it deems appropriate.”

The sanctions come following both the House and Senate passing legislation last week requiring implementation of sanctions on Turkey under CAATSA for its purchase of the Russian S-400 system. The provision was part of the annual National Defense Authorization Bill.

The NDAA passed with a veto-proof majority in the face of threats from President Trump to do so over a provision on renaming military bases and exclusion of a provision shielding social media companies over third-party content. 

Christopher Ford, assistant secretary for the bureau of international security and nonproliferation, said the imposition of sanctions on Monday were not tied to the NDAA.

“What we have done is consistent with  what I at least understand to be in the NDAA, although I don’t know exactly what’s going to happen with the NDAA,” he said in a briefing with reporters.

“What we have done today is consistent with what the provisions are, on CAATSA, in that legislation, but it was not driven by it. It’s driven by our desire to comply with the law as it currently exists on the statute books and I think we have indeed done so.”

—Updated at 2:32 p.m.

Tags Donald Trump Joe Biden Mike Pompeo Russia sanctions Turkey Vladimir Putin

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